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June 2013 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Honoring Those Who Use Science to Multiply the Harvest

Jun 27, 2013


By Gabriella Cruz: Elvas, Portugal

When I first met Marc Van Montagu at a meeting of farmers in Brussels, I didn’t know who he was—but I was immediately impressed by his views on biotechnology. He was both honest and intelligent, and best of all he knew what he was talking about. Only later did I learn what he had accomplished as a scientist. 

Now everybody else can know too, because Marc was just named as a co-recipient of the 2013 World Food Prize, noted as the ‘Nobel Prize" for agriculture.

The World Food Prize will honor Marc and two others for their significant body of work and research that has helped the Green Revolution blossom into the Gene Revolution. 

Truth be told, genetically modified crops hardly need the accolade. They’ve been confirming their worth for nearly a generation, allowing farmers around the world to control weeds and pests and promising even greater advances in the future. Since their commercialization, farmers have planted and harvested more than 3.5 billion acres of biotech crops and people eat food derived from it every day. 

About 12 percent of our planet’s arable land is planted with GM crops and more than 17 million farmers use biotechnology. Roughly 90 percent of those farmers are smallholders who choose GM crops because they make economic sense for themselves and their families in a manner that is sustainable for the environment and socially.  

So it’s wonderful that three of biotechnology’s heroes will receive formal recognition from the World Food Prize. I’m hopeful that the attention they deserve and will now receive will provide a listening global audience, if only because they have so much to say—especially to the biotech skeptics in Europe who still must overcome irrational fears of a proven technology. 

In addition to Marc, who is Belgian, this year’s winners are Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton and Dr. Robert T. Fraley of the United States. Working separately in the 1980s, they discovered through molecular research the key to plant cell transformation using recombinant DNA.  

That’s the scientifically-correct way of stating that they discovered the key of how to produce crops that grow more food on less land—and all of it safe, as every serious scientist, organization, and regulatory agency around the world that has studied them will attest.

"Our new laureates have truly used science to multiply the harvest," said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. He announced the winners last week, at a ceremony hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who hailed the recipients "for their pioneering efforts and their tremendous contributions to biotechnology and to the fight against hunger and malnutrition." The formal award will take place in Des Moines, Iowa on October 17.

Marc grew up in Belgium during the Second World War, when his country rationed food. So he knows what it’s like to scrimp on meals, and why biotechnology is a key to fighting hunger—as well as why his native continent must rethink its ways. 

"For me, [the World Food Prize] emphasizes the importance of GMO technology as a contributing factor to sustainable food production," he said. "I hope that this recognition will pave the way for Europe to embrace the benefits of this technology, an essential condition for global acceptance of transgenic plants." 

Originally from Illinois, Dr. Chilton began her academic career at the University of Washington, but has worked at Syngenta for the last 30 years, helping the company develop seeds for farmers.

"The committee’s decision to award the World Food Prize to biotechnology researchers will help convey to consumers the value, utility, and safety of genetically modified crops," said Chilton. 

Dr. Fraley, also from Illinois, worked at the University of California-San Francisco before Monsanto hired him in 1981. He has been there ever since, and led the company’s effort to develop the "Roundup Ready" crops that have proven so productive and popular.  

"I really believe we have just scratched the surface on what is possible in bringing innovation to farmers who deliver food security to consumers around the world," said Fraley. "While there are those who may not support our advanced research in biotechnology, the need for food security and the opportunity for farmers around the world to meet the growing demand is much more important than any differences of opinion."

Let’s hope that these differences of opinion continue to wither away, as Europe and the rest of the world embraces the promise of biotechnology. 



Maria Gabriela Cruz manages a 500 hectare farm in Elvas, Portugal that has been in their family for over 100 years.  Growing maize, wheat, barley and green peas, they use no-till or reduced till methods on the full farm.  She has grown biotech maize since 2006. Ms. Cruz is President of the Portuguese Association of Conservation Agriculture, a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and the 2010 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

A Filipino Mother and Farmer Wants to Place GM Eggplant on Her Table

Jun 20, 2013


By Rosalie Ellasus: San Jacinto, Philippines 


Do judges know better than mothers what their children should eat? 

In the Philippines, apparently they do. Or at least they think they do. 

Last month, my country’s Court of Appeals stopped field tests on genetically modified eggplants—crops that I would happily feed my own children and grandchildren. 

We’ve been eating GM crops for years. I grow them on my farm in San Jacinto during the dry season. They’re such excellent crops that I plant them on the 12 hectares that I own and also rent an additional 3.5 hectares. 

I’ve also grown eggplants. They’re the leading vegetable crop in the Philippines, where we call them talong. They come in many shapes and colors, from elongated or rounded to purple, violet, or green. Some even have white stripes. 

Mothers like me can cook talong a hundred different ways, but one of everybody’s favorite dishes is called pinakbet. Talong is a main ingredient, along with other vegetables as well as fish or shrimp, all stirred together in a hot and delicious mix.

If you were to ask Filipinos to pick their favorite Filipino plate, pinakbet probably would win the contest. 

I’m very concerned that the judges have ruled against a technology that would make it easier for farmers to grow talong and mothers to feed it to their children. 

If their decision had been based in sound scientific reasoning, then it would make sense and be accepted. Farmers don’t want to hurt the environment and mothers don’t want to feed harmful food to their children. 

But the ruling had nothing to do with science. The judges simply reacted to the lies of activist groups such as Greenpeace, whose well-fed leaders never have to wonder about their next meal.

Biotechnology is widely accepted around the world, where farmers have harvested more than 3.5 billion acres of it over the last 20 years. 

A few of those acres have been mine. I started growing GM crops shortly after the death of my husband. They helped me get my life back together and gave me the financial means to send my children to school.

They also put food on the table. I mean this both figuratively and literally because in my home we eat what we grow—and our GM corn uses exactly the same pest-fighting technology that the Court of Appeals just rejected for talong.

This is ridiculous. How can a trait be acceptable in one crop but not in another?  

My personal experience demonstrates what scientists all over the world have said: GM crops are a safe and proven option. That’s what the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and many other groups have proclaimed, along with the National Academy of Science of Technology here in the Philippines. 

One of the latest voices to endorse GM food is Michael Purugganan, a Filipino who is the dean of science at New York University, a preeminent university in the United States. 

"When it comes to GM technology, [critics] ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety of GMO crops," he wrote in GMA News Online, responding to last month’s ruling. "Meanwhile, here in the U.S., I will eat GMO tortilla chips and eat GMO tofu. I hope to one day taste GMO pinakbet. And I do so fully aware that I have nothing to worry about."

I’ll take it a step further. Biotech crops aren’t merely just okay to eat. They’re actually better than non-biotech crops. They allow us to grow more food on less land, making them tools of conservation and sustainable agriculture. They also improve the health of farmers because they don’t require additional pesticide applications, which can be hazardous to the people who apply them directly to crops.

With its unfortunate decision, the Court of Appeals has hurt the international reputation of the Philippines, which now may be viewed as a foe of progress and technology. More importantly, it has hurt the prospects of ordinary Filipinos, from farmers who struggle to make a living to mothers who simply want safe and affordable ways to feed their children.


Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines.  Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration plot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from.  She is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Don’t Allow Biotechnology to be Taken Off the EU-US Negotiating Table

Jun 13, 2013


By John Reifsteck:  Champaign, Illinois 

If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. 

U.S. and EU trade diplomats must keep this slogan in mind as they prepare to negotiate a sweeping free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. 

Success would deliver a big boost to economies on both sides of the Atlantic, as phony barriers to the flow of goods, services, and investments come down. Europe is already America’s largest export market, worth about $459 billion last year and supporting about 2.4 million jobs, according to federal statistics. 

The good news is that we can do even better: One estimate says that a wise agreement would pump nearly $100 billion to the U.S. economy. It would function like a job-creating stimulus program, without costing taxpayers anything or adding to the national debt. 

The bad news is that a few voices are already suggesting that we limit our expectations, especially in agriculture, even before formal talks begin next month. We’re hearing murmurs about how everything would go a lot more smoothly if only we didn’t have to argue about biotechnology.

But argue we must, because genetically modified crops are a fundamental issue for American farmers. This is a fight worth having. 

Here in the United States, our science-based regulations approve biotechnology as a safe tool of sustainable agriculture. The technology allows us to grow more crops on less land, helping us feed the world and conserve resources at the same time. The vast majority of our corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically modified, as they are throughout much of the western hemisphere. 

In Europe, however, everything is political, including the regulatory process that controls what products farmers can use. Many scientific groups in Europe, such as Britain’s Royal Society, have endorsed GM crops. So have sensible environmentalists such as Mark Lynas. Yet European governments ignore these recommendations, preferring to let anti-biotech activists drive consumer ignorance and dictate policies. 

So GM crops have become a major area of transatlantic disagreement—a non-tariff barrier to healthy commerce in food. The coming round of trade talks represents an excellent opportunity to change this by harmonizing rules and reaching a smart resolution. 

We should seize this moment. Rather than running away from a difficult conversation, we should confront it and do our best to persuade Europe on the safety and sustainability of biotechnology. 

It may not even be as hard as we fear. 

Here’s a secret: Many Europeans actually want the United States to win this dispute. 

Don’t get me wrong. Europe’s opposition to GM crops is strong and we should treat it seriously. Yet it may not be as formidable as some officials and pundits would have us believe. 

Last November, I traveled to London for an agriculture conference. Its theme was "sustainable intensification of agriculture" but in reality the discussion was about the European regulatory system and how it stifles agriculture production.  This politicized regulatory process is making it difficult for Europe to feed itself. 

If the meeting had been in the United States, it would have been focused on technical issues, with panels talking about choosing the right seeds, battling weeds, and growing more food. In the London meeting it was obvious that the participants believed the greater challenge to agriculture was politics and unscientific regulation.

Farmers hate this, no matter where we live. We’d rather plant our fields and harvest our crops than fill out piles of paperwork and butt heads with bureaucrats. 

An attendee from a European country surprised me with a private conversation: "Please push us on biotechnology." He believes Europe needs to accept GM foods and believes that can occur with pressure from America.

In other words, a number of Europeans understand and appreciate the virtue of GM crops. They’re ready and willing to talk. Along the way, they may make loud complaints about hardheaded American negotiators, but they’ll also budge from their position, make concessions, and allow progress.

Is this an optimistic view? Perhaps. But it makes sense to start these talks with a spirit of hopefulness and a desire to achieve.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the White House last month, he spoke on how the United States and Europe should have wide-ranging conversations on trade: "That means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions." 

Let’s take him at his word. Rather than taking biotechnology off the table, let’s make it a centerpiece.

John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in Champaign County Illinois.  He volunteers as a Board Member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).  Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Wheat Lessons

Jun 06, 2013

 By Terry Wanzek:  Jamestown, North Dakota

When a farmer discovered biotech wheat on a remote field in eastern Oregon in April, he found the agricultural equivalent of a needle in a haystack—a few stalks amid more than half a billion acres of wheat planted and harvested in the last dozen years.

The detection made headlines around the world not merely because the needle was hard to find but because it wasn’t supposed to exist at all: Genetically modified wheat was developed, tested, and proven safe for human consumption but it was not commercialized.

The last approved field-test planting of GM wheat in Oregon was in 2001, according to the Department of Agriculture. The most recent field test anywhere in the United States was in 2005. Since then, American farmers have grown more than 500 million acres of wheat. That’s an area larger than the state of Alaska.

Amid this enormous bounty of crops, someone spotted a small handful of plants that shouldn’t have sprouted from Oregon’s soil.   

As a North Dakota wheat producer, the first thing I want you to know is that GM wheat doesn’t put anyone at risk. "The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a safety concern," said the USDA in a statement last week. 

The technology in question—herbicide resistance that helps crops fight weeds—is well understood and commonly used in corn and soybeans. We eat safe and nutritious food derived from it every day. This trait was not commercialized in wheat for the simple economic worry that foreign buyers would refuse it because they have not yet embraced farming’s biotech revolution. 

So the biggest question over the GM wheat in Oregon is not whether it’s safe—we know with confidence that it is—but rather how it got there in the first place. Authorities must launch a thorough investigation that examines every possibility, from the misplacement of seeds during field tests years ago to the survival of a few stray plants in the wild.

And let’s not discount the possibility of mischief: The enemies of biotechnology are thrilled by this discovery because they think it gives modern agriculture a black eye. 

Meanwhile, let’s learn two lessons from this episode. 

The first is that we have an outstanding system of food regulation in the United States. It’s so good that it can spot an isolated event in an Oregon wheat field and help us begin the process of understanding what happened.

The second is that we have nothing to fear from biotech wheat.  

This is a safe product. Both farmers and consumers would benefit from its commercialization. It would allow wheat farmers to grow more food and reduce their production costs. These savings ultimately would find their way into grocery stores, where consumers would pay less for bread, cereal, pasta, and other products that come from our wheat fields. 

This is more than merely a missed opportunity. Our wheat supply already suffers from a lack of biotechnology. Many farmers are switching away from wheat because it’s a less predictable crop than corn and soybeans, which have been improved so much by genetic modification.

On my own farm in North Dakota, we’ve been cutting back every year on wheat. We used to grow it on as much as 80 percent of our acreage. Now we’re down to about 10 percent, mainly because we prefer the advantages of biotechnology in corn and soybeans. My neighbors have been doing the same.

Convincing Americans about the advantages of biotechnology never has been the main issue. The United States, along with Canada and most of the Western hemisphere, already has accepted biotechnology as an excellent tool option for farmers and consumers. 

It’s time for the rest of the world to catch up. 

When news of the GM wheat discovery hit the media, our buyers in Japan and Korea immediately suspended purchases and promised to test samples. Europe said that it would increase its testing of wheat as well. 

They almost certainly won’t find anything: It looks highly unlikely that any GM wheat entered the food supply. Korea’s first test results, announced on Monday, appeared to confirm this. 

Yet the time to commercialize GM wheat is past due. The sooner everyone stops fussing over a safe and healthy product, the sooner farmers and consumers all over the world will benefit. 

Terry Wanzek is a wheat, corn and soybean producer in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).  Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

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